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The flora of Somerville

By Louise A. Vinal
A city of 70,000 inhabitants, bounded on two sides by still larger cities, offers an unpromising field of research to the most enthusiastic botanist. But the interests of this society are largely in the days that are gone, and for this half-hour we will try and picture the vegetation of Somerville from the arrival of the first colonists to the time when the encroachments of the rapidly-growing city drove from its limits all but the most common of its native plants.

The first mention of the vegetation of that particular part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony which since 1842 has been known as Somerville was made by the surveying party that left Salem shortly after the arrival of Endicott and his colonists. They traveled through an ‘uncouth wilderness’ until they reached Mishawum, now Charlestown, and they reported that ‘they found it was a neck of land generally full of stately timber, as was the main.’ And Thomas Graves, who came over as engineer of the Charlestown colony the next year, wrote home that ‘It is very beautiful in open lands mixed with goodly woods, and again open plaines, in some places five hundred acres, some places more, some lesse, not much troublesome for to cleere for the plough to goe in, no place barren but on the tops of the hills.’ He also says: ‘The grass and weeds grow up to, a man's face in the lowlands.’ And the Rev. Mr. Higginson, writing of the settlements on Charles river, speaks of the ‘abundance of grass that groweth everywhere, both very thick, very long, and very high in divers places.’

From these simple statements, it is not difficult to imagine the aspect of our city at that time. On the north, broad marshes extended along the Mystic river, from the Medford line to Charlestown Neck, the marsh grasses green and beautiful in their pristine freshness. On the south, Miller's river, or Willis creek, as it was first called, a broad inlet from the sea, reached beyond Union square, probably as far as where the bleachery now stands; and from there to Charlestown Neck was another

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